Social Farming in Italy

The multifunctionality of agricultural enterprises

Social Agriculture has developed in many fields in Italy, nowadays including a plurality of experiences, not attributable to a unitary model, which are different from each other in performed activity, organization, source of funding and targets. Intervention fields are broadly: education, training and job inclusion of low contractuality subjects, recreation and quality of life, everyday life services and therapeutic use. During the interviews it’s been possible to listen and meet some interesting realities operating in Umbria, about which we’ll talk later.

The recent 141/2015 law describes social agriculture “as an aspect of the multifunctionality of agricultural enterprises, aimed at the development of social services and socio-sanitary, educational and socio-occupational placement interventions, in order to facilitate plain and proper access to basic services granted to people, families and local communities in all of the national territory, particularly in rural or disadvantaged areas”. This is a “light law”, which means they tried to produce a regulation framework with a unifying, but not uniforming, base, leaving the space of expression owed to vocations in the local level SA.

Locally, some Italian regions equipped themselves with a regulatory instrument about SA much before the approval of the above-mentioned national law - “Provisions on social agriculture”.

The Umbria Region with the n.12 regional law of April 9th 2015 – “Single text on agriculture”, has repealed the previous regional law (n. 16 of August 7th 2014). Specifically, regulations about SA refer to Title VIII Section III – Social agriculture and discipline of social farms. The law describes social agriculture as “the whole of activities aimed to generate inclusive benefits, promote habilitation and rehabilitation courses, support the social and occupational inclusion of disadvantaged or at risk of marginalization population bands, as well as promote development and social cohesion in the local area”.

A social farm is where social agriculture practices take place, such as:

  • Socio-occupational inclusion of subjects belonging to weak bands acknowledged by local and regional welfare bodies and socio-occupational inclusion of disadvantaged and disable subjects, as defined by the current legislation;
  • Social, sociosanitary, rehabilitative, therapeutic, training and educational services for families, seniors, weak categories and disadvantaged and disable subjects;
  • Social activities to support local communities, which make use of material and immaterial agricultural resources to provide services useful for everyday life, as well as promote, accompany and achieve actions of social and occupational inclusion, recreation and education.

To be able to perform SA activities, agricultural enterprises have to be authorized or qualified in compliance with current legislation regarding the authorization and qualification for socio-assistance and sociosanitary services, or else they must have entered into agreements with a duration of at least five years with local public authorities, social cooperatives, volunteering organizations, social enterprises and social promotion associations, authorized or qualified for socio-assistance and sociosanitary services. The regulatory proposal takes on itself to answer on one hand to a need of widespread welfare and on the other to identify further chances of increase in agricultural incomes, in order to maintain an economy diffused particularly in marginal areas of the regional territory.

In Italy, SA is not certainly a new feature, but it has extreme actuality if you consider the growing interest and degree of implementation. This feature claims a plurality of contents and experiences: there are “veterans” and “new” subjects moving or about to move in different areas (education, training and low contractuality job inclusion, therapeutic and/or rehabilitation use, etc.). There is no certain fact about the number of realities performing SA in Italy, but from surveys made in some regions (Lazio, Tuscany, Lombardy, Sicily) it’s possible to estimate the presence of about a thousand experiences.

Always from the words of our interviewees, a clear and shared vision emerges about an agricultural world that could provide many answers. An agricultural multifunctionality in which environment, health, social and economy proceed symbiotically. A return to the earth creating values: “New and real possibilities of innovation and social inclusion emerge from tradition”.

It can also be asserted that Italy has a tradition of “unconscious social agriculture”, actually – we’re quoting what was said by our interviewees - “agriculture is social”, “agriculture collects since always”, “We all were born from peasants”. All these statements refer to “our roots”, an ancient disposition of rural families in practices of solidarity and mutual help. Agricultural enterprises have, besides the economic-productive function, a number of other environmental safeguard functions, to promote rural spaces, include disadvantaged categories, promote traditions. Many experiences of social entrepreneurship in agriculture have grown in shadow. Usually, SA expects a participatory course which is born and develops locally, coming from a public and private partnership. The first experiences of Social agriculture can be traced back to the 70s. To these realities’ pioneering activities, during the years, other experiences have been added and joined, coming from social cooperatives, agricultural enterprises and associations. The multiple and active experiences in SA are coming out of silence!

For public institutions, the promotion of social agriculture development represents not only an ethical, but also economical, interest. In fact, in economic terms, investing in social farms is a reason for cost optimization, because it allows people, through work, to move from the condition of assisted subject to the condition of active subject of society, from being a cost to being a resource: “there’s a transformation of the concept of care, because they move from being cared for to care”.  A feature in Italian experiences of social agriculture also is the link to safety policy, particularly referred to the use of land confiscated to mafia organizations and prison realities.

SA becomes a subject for research (thinking of – for example - ARSIA, ARSIAL and INEA), a matter of interest for category farming organizations (CIA, Confagricoltura, Coldiretti) and for associations representing small entrepreneurs such as AIAB – Italian Association Biological Agriculture.

In 2011 the National Social Agriculture Forum (FNAS) was established, having a specific Charter of Principles used as a value reference for its members ( Among the over 360 members of the Forum, 70 are social cooperatives and farming companies performing SA activities, 25 belong to associations, 6 are consortia and 3 are communities; others participate as individuals or represent municipalities, provinces, universities, research bodies. Members of the Forum are also the SA Provincial Forum of Rome, Sicily’s social farm network, themselves bringing together a number of local realities. The National Forum promoted the establishment of regional forums, present nowadays in almost every Italian region, encouraging the participation of different subjects, from farming companies to social cooperatives, universities and research centers. On June 18th 2014, at the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Perugia, the Umbria Regional Forum of Social Agriculture was officially established. Very important were the first institutions to become members: AIAB Umbria, Confcooperative and Legacoop through the Third Sector Regional Forum, Legambiente and Libera. The group of key players represented was also relevant: from volunteering to agricultural enterprises going through the social cooperation, both of A and B type.

The National Forum has implemented a profitable relationship with the Italian Parliament, actively taking part in the elaboration of the SA national framework law.

In 2005 the Social Farm Network was born, the first Italian network of social farms ( which through the years became a reference for information about good practices and active participation on the territory. The task of the Social Farm Network is to promote social agriculture initiatives, giving information about the possibilities offered by public announcements, and sharing the most interesting news. The Network also provides training courses for starting a social farm, and it also gathers the most important evidence and documents regarding social agriculture. Particularly interesting is the online course “Social Agriculture on the web” facing the following themes: “SA in the new rurality”; “Possible social agricultures”; “The SA political framework in Italy”, “The SA law”; “SA stories”; “How’s it done?”; “How to fund a SA project? Public support/Markets and financing”; “SA in the world”; “Synthesis module”.